Irene Marabi, PlayDate {Our NJ Mompreneur of the Week}


A full-time special education teacher, Irene Marabi, our NJ Mompreneur of the Week, had been helping a parent of one of her students set up a playdate to work on social skills when she had an aha moment—what if she could arrange a weekly drop-in, structured group playdate for kids of different abilities? She talked it over with her friend and fellow teacher, Julia Regan, and the two dreamed up a side hustle that could benefit kids and give parents a much-needed break. Enter PlayDate—a drop-off social space in Livingston for neurodivergent kids to have fun while working on their play and social skills in a safe, nurturing space. Since starting, PlayDate has been a lifesaver to moms of kids with different abilities looking to connect, communicate, and, most of all, have fun. We caught up with this Roseland mom of three to talk about the most rewarding part of PlayDate, the TV show she can’t stop watching, and the West Orange place where you can always find her family hanging out. 

Irene Marabi, PlayDate Mompeneur NJ MomIrene Marabi, our NJ Mompreneur of the Week and the co-owner of PlayDate.

Why did you decide to launch PlayDate? I have my Masters in Special Education and am a preschool teacher for neurodivergent children at a school in Lodi. My business partner, Julia Regan, and I met there and worked together in the classroom. One day, a parent whose child would shy away from other kids asked me who she should set her child up with, and it was hard to find someone because he always gravitated towards adults instead of kids. Then, one day we had a Valentine’s Day event in our school, and with the music, games, and fun, a young girl was playing with him, and he didn’t shy away, and I was so happy to be able to help set them up for a playdate. That got Julia and me talking—I love playdates for my children because the kids interact with each other and build skills without adult intervention. Still, parents of kids with different abilities don’t always have that luxury. That was my aha moment—I knew parents would feel safe with their kids in our hands, and it would also give them a break that they don’t usually get.  

How do you and your business partner split up the responsibilities? The activities are all collaborative–we sit down and discuss our ideas and how we want to incorporate them into our classes. Though we both have ideas of what we want to put on social media, Julia is our social media guru and handles that aspect of our business, while I’m more about staying on top of our online correspondence. We work well together and split up our responsibilities.   

Irene Marabi, PlayDate Mompreneur NJ MomIrene and her business partner, Julia Regan, take a collaborative approach to PlayDate’s activities. Each class has a theme and is structured for a group activity related to this, plus time spent working on social skills and structured open play. 

What do you hope your children learn from seeing you run your business? When we started our business, we didn’t have many kids signed up, so I took my older son. A little boy was gravitating toward my son and vice versa. This boy doesn’t speak and communicates with his hands and through pictures instead. My son asked me why, and I explained that there are all different types of people and not everyone learns the same way, but it doesn’t mean we should treat anyone differently. Kids are so generous and innocent, and when they go into settings and are curious and interested, it’s up to the adults to positively shape how they react to it. 

Irene Marabi, PlayDate Mompeneur NJ MomOur NJ Mompreneur of the Week, with her husband, Oren, and their children Tal, 5, Noah, 4, and Paz, 1 1/2.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being co-owner of PlayDate? By nature, I’m a people pleaser, so I love that what I do makes the kids feel good, but I also love that the parents feel just as good. Life can be hard, and having a child with special needs can be even harder at times. I love that parents can feel good about leaving their children in a space where they know they’ll be safe, understood, and have some fun, but also that it’s a judgment-free zone for the kids and the parents alike. Everyone can feel as comfortable here as they do in their own home. 

How do you like to unwind after a particularly stressful day? I get my kids to bed early—7:00 pm on the dot—and put on some reality TV to turn my brain off and unwind. My shows vary, but I have to admit I was tuned into Vanderpump Rules for a while because of the “Scandoval” controversy everyone was talking about. 

What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? Before I had kids, I used to work out, but after they were born, I was always so tired and stopped. I recently discovered Zapp Fitness in Livingston, and though I’ve never been a morning person, I started working out at 5:30 am. Somehow, this 30-minute high-intensity class gives me so much energy that it lasts throughout the day. Joy’s Nail & Spa in Roseland is another business I love. I like to go alone to relax while I get my nails done. My mom and I would often get manis together–she passed away about a year ago, and it feels so good to continue this tradition. 

Please share some places in NJ that you and your family enjoy. Stella, an Italian restaurant, has quickly become a favorite replacing our go-to Italian that closed. Besides the fact that the staff there couldn’t be nicer or more welcome, the food is delicious, and the kids love their penne ala vodka and pizza. For fun, we enjoy the Turtle Back Zoo, which isn’t far from our home. Getting to experience it through the eyes of my kids is priceless and makes my heart melt.

What’s your best piece of advice for a mompreneur just starting? Just do it. Life is way too short not to go after your dreams. No matter what happens, you’ll still learn something even if you fail. 

For more information on Irene Marabi and PlayDate, please see their website and Instagram pages. 

About Author

Nancy Weinberg Simon lives in Summit, NJ with her husband and two children, a 20-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter. She's a former beauty editor whose work has appeared in print and online in Family Circle, Ladies' Home Journal, Better Homes & Gardens,,, and, among others. After living in NYC for almost 20 years, Nancy returned to the Garden State when it was time to raise her family. She loves reading everything and anything she can get her hands on, entertaining friends and family, traveling the world, scouring estate sales, and crafting jewelry.